Humans survive and thrive in groups. Groups provide the foundation for large-scale human cooperation, but they also lead to intergroup conflicts and structural inequalities. My research makes two central contributions to the understanding of intergroup social cognition.
- I examine the cognitive processes underlying social categorization and driving group biases.
- I investigate lay theories of the structural forces that shape group boundaries and entrench group-based inequalities.
My work thus encompasses both basic scientific research on the cognitive underpinnings of prejudice and applied work on interventions to combat biases and inequity.
A brief description of some studies
DO CHILDREN DEVELOP WEAKER INGROUP BIASES FOR THE LESS MEANINGFUL GROUPS?
Even in randomly-assigned, previously unfamiliar, and presumably meaningless groups, young children already imbue groups with rich meanings and develop strong ingroup biases. In order to truly reduce biases, one has go to great lengths, for example trying really hard to stress that the group assignment is totally arbitrary. Take a look at the this research (PDF; paper published at JECP).
AUTOMATIC ENCODING OF GENDER AND RACE
We showed that from a quick glance at a crowd, perceivers can rapidly extract the total number of faces of a given social category (i.e., male or female, Black or White) that is embedded in a display including other social categories, even when stimuli are degraded in various ways. See the PDF here (paper published at JESP).
In another project, we found that perceivers can automatically encode gender and race, such that they are faster and more accurate in detecting a change in facial identities that cross a category boundary compared to a change that happens within categories. We also showed that such ability can not be accounted for by lower-level perceptual differences that covary with categories (paper in revision). I presented this work at SPSP 2021 (symposium name: Social Categorization: Developmental Origins, Perceptual Mechanisms, Boundary Conditions, and New Directions).
DEVELOPING CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF WEALTH AND POWER
We live in an increasingly stratified world. The wealthy hold more material wealth and enjoy more power to affect personal and societal outcomes. How do young children, who grow up against the backdrop of striking inequality, come to understand wealth, poverty, and inequality? How do they evaluate the rich and the poor and explain wealth inequalities? Are they supporters or opponents of social justice and equality? As today’s children will become tomorrow’s political actors, research on this early reasoning helps answer the burning questions in the contemporary world. I presented a talk on the first project in this line of work at CDS 2019 (I chaired the symposium “Children’s understanding of social hierarchies and interventions to reduce status prejudice”), and the paper is currently in press at Developmental Science (see preprint).
Learn more about research in our lab led by Dr. Yarrow Dunham